Friday, August 28, 2020

The season that wasn't...

Greetings to all; 

    Unfortunately, this finds me writing the "wilderness" blog in markedly less wild Minnesota (although the downtown area seems to be trending the other direction when current events are taken into account). The change of locales has come about because the final nail is in the coffin for our 2020 season with the most recent extension of the U.S. / Canada border closure, continuing the ban on pleasure travel until at least late September. 

    With that news breaking and running out of materials for improvements and AVGAS to keep the plane in the air, it was time to button up the camps for the season. 

    While it is always a little bit of a somber affair, it was a particular downer to be winterizing everything when the season is still in its prime and so many of you were holding out hope to join us. This situation is obviously out of everyone's hands, but my sincere thanks to all our guests that tried so hard to make Big Hook a reality this year. It'll be even better next!  

FISH FRY! Can taste it now...
     Pat, Maria, and I made the best of it, however, and got lots and lots done with what we had on hand at the camps. I made a few flights down to Red Lake too, racking up some credit card miles in addition to the air miles at the hardware stores and marinas. Everything should be in tip top shape for next year's opening.  

    COVID kept employee party more subdued than normal too. The pilots, nurses, and teachers from Sandy Lake, generations of whom have all been regular participants going back to Tom's freewheeling era and then Nathan's college years, are not allowed out of Sandy Lake right now. Most reservations up north are totally closed to outsiders currently. I was allowed to land at Sandy once to get fuel, but had to remain on the dock. This was doubly frustrating since I could see the stacks of lumber, siding, flooring, etc... we brought up the winter road. It's also understandable, however - it would be very bad if COVID got into any of these small, remote communities. 

A new window and kitchen updates at SW
   We got in a little fishing too! We found lots and lots of walleye grouped up around the 15' mark all around Central. The entrance to the narrows north of the asteroid field provided particularly fast action on a mission to clear / check out the north portage. Maria and I were throwing jigs and twister tails - and having the most luck with 3/8 oz in white and pink. Pat deployed a size 6 hammered gold Panther Martin with good success too. 
Dock repairs and a new boat ramp at Burnt Lake

    

    

    Pat also pulled out his fly rod in search of some northern. He never tied into any oversized models, but did have great success with numbers using streamer and mouse patterns. I was lucky to catch the big northern of the party day (and the season) while walleye fishing with the aforementioned white and pink jig setup. 

 

Gunner for scale.
    


We had lots of pool parties (dock swims) to cool off after some long days working and a handful of fish fries that were as good as ever. We also got to try out the newly crafted log benches around the fire ring outside the big cabin at Main Camp. They should act as excellent pulpits for spinning fish tales for many seasons to come. 
Employee Pool Party

   







 Other exciting happenings since my last update include a lynx sighting while clearing out the South Portage and a fire scare for the town of Red Lake (the town had to be evacuated, but thankfully everything is now under control). 

  While this season (or the lack thereof) was obviously a let down, it has been incredibly heartening to be in regular contact with so many of you that hold Big Hook near and dear. I've gotten to hear all sorts of great stories from years past and we've made lots of plans for trips and memories to come. The countdown to the 2021 season has certainly begun.

    To celebrate all the good times (and round out this year's holiday card since 2020 photos will be lacking) I'd like to invite you to share a picture or memory from a trip to Big Hook. You can post pics to our Facebook page, tag us on instagram (@bighookcamps), or email them to me (ryan@bighookcamps.com). Stories to the same or in the comments below. I can't wait to see and hear what you've got. 

    Thanks so much to all of you, Ryan 

Thanks Maria and Pat for all your help. 
Looking forward to next year!


Saturday, July 18, 2020

It's Lonely Up Here!

Just like the jello mold at Christmas, some things you have to do for tradition's sake. With that in mind, The Big Hook Blog, summer 2020...

It's been a difficult year to say the least, but these sorts of hardships certainly put the important things in perspective. With that in mind, we'll focus on the good and try to enjoy the experience for what it is: unique. And unique it has been.

By the time I was allowed across the border, summer was already at its peak up here in Opasquia.

In order to abide by the current travel and quarantine restrictions in Canada, I had to drive directly from the border crossing south of Winnipeg to the maintenance facility that works on our airplane. Don't pass go, don't collect two hundred dollars, no liquor store, no Mcdonalds either. Gary and Jenn with Riverside Maintenance were kind enough to arrange a "contactless" delivery and had XZK already in the water and fueled up, all I had to do was load my stuff up and we were off.

Using what they could find, the MNR cobbled together a
shelter for their sprinkler pumps. Sunset still good. 
After two plus hours of flying I had Big Hook in my sights and touched down in the west arm of Central. It's a conservative landing, but I wanted to give myself plenty of room in case my float flying skills turned out to be rusty.

Tom with Sandy Lake Seaplane had stopped into Central once to check on camp and informed me of some bear damage. I was also aware of a fire that had started a few days earlier between the south side of Central and South Lake. I certainly wasn't expecting the rattle and hum of forest fire fighting sprinklers when I shut down the engine, however.

Unbeknownst to me, the Ministry of Natural Resources had spent the day setting up a sprinkler system as a precaution in case the fire turned north. In order to test the system and give everything a good soaking they left the pumps running. It was kind of like the 18th green at midnight gag I fell for years back - getting soaked as I stepped off the plane.

On the water at Central
I am extremely grateful for their hard work, however, and fortunately several rain storms have since put out the fire.

Then onto the waiting. Staff was to join me soon, but I needed to finish off the conditions of my quarantine. So, I went about many of the opening activities around camp - at least the ones I could manage on my own: turning on the water, getting the power online, internet and office up, etc... According to my phone I walked 8 miles up and down the board walk here one of those days. It's a bizarre experience to be the only human in a wilderness the size of many small countries. Fortunately Gunner kept me company, however.

Maria and Pat (who hail from Saskatoon, SK and Markdale, ON respectively) were able to join me before too long and are settling in nicely. Since their arrival, we've been able to get to Cocos, Burnt, and South Lakes, with a fly-over at West.

One of the biggest tasks so far has been knocking down the grass which is waste high in places. It's taking a beating on the equipment and we are now on hold till we can get new parts from Red Lake.

We are also going to have a good project with the dock at Burnt. A combination of high water and shifting ice picked up the floating dock and deposited it on top of the crib / pier.

The dock at Burnt had tough winter
The cabins otherwise seemed to have wintered well which will allow us to turn towards some improvements as soon as I can start hauling freight out of Sandy.

We have only been out fishing one evening so far, so the report is minimal. We spent an hour or two close to main camp and caught dinner plus a few more. The water is extremely high and the mayfly hatch extremely late - still many coming off at Cocos yesterday. For those who are West Lake aficionados, the rock right in front of camp appears to be completely under water and there is no shore left at Burnt either.

That's it for now. We'll be working away up here for awhile now. Like I said, we are really missing all of you!

We'll try to make the best of this, however, and I'll update again in another few weeks. Hopefully we'll make it out on the water a few times more between now and then. Wishing you all could join us.

Thanks for thinking Big Hook,
Ryan
Maiden Voyage


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Squeaky Wheel...

It seems mother nature wants to be the topic of conversation this week at Big Hook. 

As we've reported, it has been a very dry summer in our neck of the woods. This has lead to high fire dangers throughout northwestern Ontario. Dozens of fires have manifested and some have been large enough (like the Keewaywin fire just south of Sandy Lake) to force evacuations, spread smoke throughout the midwestern US., and make international news. 

One of four fires in Opasquia
Opasquia had been seemingly looked over by the lightning storms, sparring us the additional worry of active fires within our operational boundaries (although we were still affected by thick smoke anytime the wind blew out of the south). That all changed at the end of July, however. 

With one nasty storm (powerful enough to bowl over Shadow's "Squirrel Tree" here at Central), we were left with four active fires; three of which were close enough to our camps to boat to. Both the Big Hook staff and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) were on high alert, making daily flights over the areas to track the progression of these fires. The MNR went so far to set up sprinkler fire suppression systems around Southwest and West Camps in an abundance of caution (a HUGE thanks to the hard working men and women who came in to do so!).  

Fortunately, I'm finally getting some "screen-time" and writing this now due to a drenching rain that moved in this morning and is supposed to keep up for the next few days. We are very hopeful that this weather system will extinguish all of these fires completely. It's not ideal for the group here currently, but much better than the alternatives. Not the types to be dissuaded by a little rain anyway, my round of camp checks this morning found all our camps' fishermen out on the water and chasing fish. 

Central Lake 43"
Speaking of fish, big numbers and big sizes have both been reported. The biggest fish of the week was this 43" pike caught here at Central on a silver colored spoon. Southwest was the hot spot for numbers, outgoing guests ball parking their catch at a "few thousand." The big walleye that I've heard of was a 26"er out of West - I was told the fisherman's face broke the camera, so a photo is not available. 

Pike are stacked up amongst the weeds and cabbage. The biggest girls have been located in areas that are thoroughfares or have slight flowage. Spoons like a Johnson's Silver Minnow, Daredevil, or 5 of Diamonds are being favored. 

Walleye remain in the 10-15' range and are responding particularly well to white for jig head and/or tail color I was told by outbound guests in Sandy. 

I broke the news of the fallen tree to Nathan who in turn broke it to Shadow... I guess she took it well. 

Hard to believe there's only a few more weeks of the summer season! Hopefully there's nothing but fishing to talk about next time. 

Good luck on the water till then, 
Ryan

Sunset
Moonrise

Thursday, July 25, 2019

As one might expect...



The second half of summer has been unfolding as it should. The walleye are moving deeper, the pike are carving out their turf among the weed beds, and some BIG fish are taking a brief break from their underwater world to make friends with some hospitable fishermen.

The past week has showcased what summer up here is all about: some days warm enough to warrant a swim, some mornings cool enough to tempt a fire, some thunderclouds that made a good excuse to fall asleep with a book, and some fishing so good you didn't even realize it was raining. 

Guests from all 6 lakes have reported great catches and many sent photos to prove it (THANK YOU!) The biggest pike last week (42") was caught at Burnt on a 1/16th oz. jig (perch fishing, I presume) and no doubt made for an exciting fight on light gear. Several other upper 30" and lower 40" pike were boated around the park. Silver spoons like a Johnson's Silver Minnow with a twister tail (white) seemed to "net" the most consistent results. 

While the pike are stacked amongst the weed beds, a lot of longtime guests are noting that the weeds have developed differently than in years past due to the low, low water. Some spots that are usually meccas have not matured as one might expect, meanwhile other areas that are often weed free are now matted up. 

Lot's of big walleyes have been caught too. South lake remained the hot-spot for big marble eyes with 8 fish measuring between 25-29". Several in that trophy class were also raised at Burnt, West, Cocos, and Central.

Most fish are now in about 10-15' of water. The adage of bright colored jigs on sunny days, darker colored jigs on cloudy ones seems to be holding true. Crawler harnesses have been deployed with great success too. 

We were thankful to get a moderate amount of rain through the week. The fire/smoke situation up here has improved immensely, although there was a new fire reported just east of The Park today. 

With the rain came all the bugs early season guests noted as peculiarly absent. We all knew it was just a matter of time, but bug spray has become a required piece of equipment. I imagine their reign will be fairly short lived, however, as the days are getting noticeably shorter already. 

As the season continues to mature, the berries are really starting to pop. Wild mountain strawberries have been a great addition to morning cereal and the raspberries are on the cusp of surrounding outhouses everywhere (they love the additional "nutrients" left by our guests). Blueberries won't be far behind either. It is definitely fun being able to enjoy such a diverse bounty up here. 

We'll try to keep you up to speed on all things Big Hook. Thanks so much for taking the time to follow us. 

Happy fishing, 
Ryan

Monday, July 15, 2019

Mid-summer, oh my!

29" (Jack in background for scale)

It's hard to believe we are already halfway through summer. Seems like it was just a week ago we were fighting snow on our first changeover day. Time sure can fly. 

Beyond the calendar, there are several other markers of the season's maturation. The mayfly hatch has now come and gone, lake weed beds are fully developed, trees and shrubs are starting to bear fruit, days are noticeably shorter, and the fish are beginning to descend in the water column as surface temps. flirt with 70. 

Fishing reports from the outposts have been good. Some of the lakes did see a dip in action last week as the walleyes feasted on the abundant mayflies. Others reported no slow down at all, but did note that gullets and stomachs were often full of Hex's. 

The most recent reports have all described fast walleye action and voracious pike. 

South Lake monster
We have not had much in the way of wind or waves as of late (although this may change by this afternoon with a severe batch of storms that are trending this direction). As such, there is a fairly steep thermocline between the surface and waters another few feet down. Walleyes at Central seem to be relating to this. Many being caught in 4-5'. Lighter presentations for these depths (and for fish through the mayfly hatch) have been favored. 1/4 oz jigs and slightly small twister tails (2") have proven deadly. It has also been possible to sight fish  - casting to individual shapes readily visible on sunny days. Other fisher-folk have had success trolling (relatively) shallow water crankbaits. Again, smaller sizes seemed to be preferred as the fish get over their mayfly glut.  

Color coordinated!
It won't be long till the walleye start diving down, however, and a step up in jig size will help get bait down too. I like 3/8 oz. through most of the second half of summer, sometimes it's worth throwing in a few 1/2 oz. jigs the tackle box just in case. 

The hot northern lure at Central has been a 6" red and black streamer pattern presented via fly-rod. We are starting to see a lot more fly-fishing converts up here. If nothing else, it offers a whole new set of challenges (and occasional frustrations). 

Groups at the outposts were all out fishing during our round of camp checks the past two days. Hopefully we'll have some updates to relay when we stop in again mid-week. 

We were fortunate to get a decent rainfall last week, but the fire activity and water levels remain extremely high and low respectively. The biggest fire in the area is on the south shore of Sandy Lake near the community of Keewaywin. It is currently about a quarter million acres in size and has forced the total evacuation of that town. It is also the fire responsible for a good deal of the smoke some of you may be seeing south of the border. "Sorry," as we say here in Canada. 

As stated, there is a strong batch of thunderstorms moving in now. We could certainly use the rain, but would just as soon it not come with the lightning for fear of sparking more fires. 

Hoping for a good drenching rain and some tight lines before and after. 

Ps. Huge thanks to the Batten Bunch for submitting your photos!

Sunrise at South Lake

Monday, July 1, 2019

They're H E R E ....



Hard to believe that we are staring down mid-summer already! Besides Canada Day (today!) and the 4th of July, the biggest marker thereto is the oft dreaded Mayfly. They began their hatch sporadically late last week and are now in full blossom throughout the park. 

The Hexagenia limbata (or Hex) is the second largest species of mayfly in North America. They are said to be indicators of a healthy ecosystem and provide an important source of sustenance for fish, birds, and animals alike. It is thought that the Hex hatch is synchronized in order to improve the chances that each individual finds a mate. In that case, job well done. The shear amount of bio-mass these insects create is quite remarkable. 

Hexagenia limbata
Photo Credit: Lynette Elliott
While it will inevitably change the fishing some as the hatch evolves, so far the bite has not slowed down. Outgoing guests report great catches of all game fish - although they did note the perch action seemed to taper as the mayflies became more prevalent. 

Last week's guests at South Lake boated 17 walleyes in the mid to upper 20's, including a dandy 29".  All of these came on simple jig and twister tail combos while slow trolling. 

Guests at Central reported aggressive walleyes too, some chasing top water baits like Zara Spooks and others attacking fish alongside the boat!

Guests at Central and Burnt chased the perch hard and both had good numbers right up until the mayfly activity began. 

A first-time guest at Southwest said something to the effect of "I never thought I'd be tired of catching fish, but I might be tired of catching fish... I can barely hold my arms up." #BigHookSouthwestProblems. 

That's how you hold a fish!
The biggest pike reported came from West, who boated a 39" and 41" if memory serves. Several others in the mid-30's were raised around The Park. Weed beds are developing rapidly and anticipation of summer top-water season is high. 

Dry weather persists and fire danger is listed as "extreme" in all of our region. Several new fires popped up near Red Lake due to a lightning storm yesterday. The airport closure will make fighting these extra difficult.

Similarly, water levels throughout The Park remain at historic lows. Many guests who have been visiting our lakes for decades cannot recall ever seeing the water as low as it is now. 

There is a small amount of rain in the forecast tomorrow, at this point, we'll take whatever we can get. Hoping more will materialize soon and the lighting stays away in the mean time. 

A happy Canada Day to all and have a happy and safe 4th of July too!
R

Maybe the most "Canadian" pic of the week in celebration of Canada Day


Friday, June 21, 2019

Careful What You Wish For...


Well, we asked for warmer weather and we got it! Suddenly the camps of Big Hook are filled with swimmers looking to beat the heat. It was only a couple weeks ago we were battling snow on a Saturday change-over. Warm and dry is about all that’s in the forecast. Since I seem to have a “weather-wisher” that’s working well these days, I’ll now hope for a good, long, soaking rain (just not on a Saturday – but now that’s getting awful picky).

Water levels remain VERY low throughout the park. Docks have had to have extra steps installed and water pumps have had to be lowered so they are drawing water and not air. A huge thanks for our guests who have piloted their boats extra cautiously, our motors (and I) really appreciate it!

With the dry conditions, forest fires are sparking up all around Northwester Ontario. While we are not under a burn ban yet, conditions are listed as “Extreme.” Please employ an abundance of caution any time fire is involved if you are due to arrive at Big Hook soon.

Fire just south of Sandy Lake
With the air, water temps. are also on the rise. Guests on Central saw surface temps. climb from the upper 50’s to mid-60’s in just a day. With this uptick, fish are moving slightly deeper, but 5-10’ seems to be the number to find schooled up walleye. The suckers have also begun their spawning run up the streams. Walleye, northern (and bears!) have been stacked up doing some fishing of their own. Several bears were seen on portages and creek mouths throughout the park this week.  I was taught a new sing-along while going to investigate one sighting – it’s always good to make noise just so there are no surprises.

The fishing remains superb. We had the chance to catch up with the guests at South Lake this week at length. They have boated several nice trophy sized fish including one northern just north of 40” and one walleye that was JUST short of 30” (I’m told no matter how hard they tried they couldn’t quite stretch her that extra ¼”). She was released safely and should be above that magic number by the end of the summer (don’t think that counts for his replica mount, however). Those fish were caught on a William’s Wobbler and undisclosed crank-bait respectively.

A beautiful day for a boat ride
Central guests have described great numbers above and below several rapids and “fish a minute” type conditions. Several mid-20” walleye and 35-42”pike were caught between the two groups currently at Central. Jigs tipped with Gulp-Alive and Berkley RippleShads of various colors have been the preferred presentations.

Aidan has taken care of most all the other camp checks this week, but guests all around have reported good fishing with several big pike at Burnt and huge numbers of walleye at Southwest (thousands).



The other exciting news around camp:
Our PouchCouch

It was decided the one thing missing around Big Hook was a hammock. We ordered one from PouchCouch that arrived recently. While I haven’t had the chance to enjoy it myself just yet, both the other staff and guests can’t get enough of it. I have to admit it looks quite idyllic.

That’s it from The Park for now. Thanks to everyone that cares to know about the happenings up here. For those of you who have recently made your own pilgrimage to Big Hook, please email or tag us your photos so we can share some more fish-tails!

Happy fishing,
R.